After putting the franchise tag on Wes Welker last season, the New England Patriots are faced with the same question going into the off-season: Is he worth the money of the franchise tag, and can a long term deal be accomplished?
It’s not a question of Welker’s value in the market: He’s staying within a system that has made him one of the more productive wide receivers in the NFL, leading the NFL in receptions three times since joining the Pats in 2007, averaging 80.2 yards per game with the team in his career and 84.6 last season, to go along with his six touchdown catches.
His franchise tag was worth $9.5 million last season, but doing it a second consecutive time means a 20% raise, something the Patriots might be hesitant to do for a 31 year old player with a knack to get banged up and 140 career games behind him. Productive or not , giving $10.9 million a season for Welker, who keeps the status quo going if not heading towards a decline, instead of upgrading the team, makes the decision to keep him a very difficult one.
Robert Kraft, the owner, wants Welker on the team, but is dropping hints that the players’ side needs to give up some ground in order for them to come to an agreement. Franchise tagging him this time sounds less and less reasonable.
I’d love him to be around. He’s a great guy. Like I’ve said all along, it takes two sides to make a transaction. We have to manage the lawyers and the agents that they don’t mess it up. I think Wes wants to be with us, and we want him here. It’s just a matter of whether both sides can be intelligent.
Welker has made the Pro Bowl five consecutive times since joining the Patriots and named an All-Pro four straight years (2008-2011). Tom Brady himself pretty much called for him to be retained, saying Welker is the heart and soul of what the Patriots are all about. Still, putting so much money while trying to find possibly a new way to compete, because the old way clearly isn’t cutting it when it comes to winning Super Bowls, might make Welker’s long term stay something of a luxury the Pats can’t afford.